28mm Ancient and Medieval Historicals: A Brief Overview

Since a recent question on the Adeptus North Texas mailing list, several hobbyists have written me privately inquiring further about the current state of Historical miniatures wargaming in our favorite 'GW' scale. I figured I would attempt a quick overview to try to address these questions, and any other unexpressed interest that may be out there. You may have a potential opponent--or interested retailer--convenient to you, awaiting only mutual discovery!

First, I should qualify that my comments will be limited to Ancient and Medieval Wargaming. There are thriving Historicals of every era out there, from ECW (English Civil War) to Napoleonics to the Vietnam War, and WWII and ACW (American Civil War) are probably the *most* currently popular Historical eras being wargamed...but AnM (Ancient and Medieval) most closely resembles GW's Fantasy skirmishes--and I am an Ancient and Medieval history major (albeit now some two decades removed); that's where my interest lies, so that is where I am best able to point you right.

Anyone interested in the state of the hobby should start with the Society of Ancients ( http://www.soa.org.uk ), whose quarterly magazine, the Slingshot, is a near-perfect alchemy of enthusiast history, wargaming figure/rules reviews, latest historical book reviews, and battle reenactments/scenarios/reports that combine both history and wargaming.

Beyond the SoA, rulesets are the next thing one should explore. Rather than recommend any, I encourage interested hobbyists to get games in with the various systems; there are a great many, and there is no better way to figure out which rules play the way you like than to actually game with them. Moreover, it would do me little good to write about the relative virtues and vices of Armati vs DBMM vs Tactica, et al, if no one local to you plays any of those. I will briefly mention three systems:

•Field of Glory is the most readily available current ruleset commercially, as it is supported by famed military publisher Osprey and available through any retailer which stocks their books. The rules and supplements for specific eras are gorgeously-presented graphically; the game mechanics feel (to me) very--perhaps *too*--traditional. Same-old/same-old syndrome. Your mileage may vary.

•Ancient and Medieval Wargaming is a book format ruleset by Neil Thomas; although it abstracts rather than simulates as a guiding principle, which runs contrary to my traditional preferences, the abstractions are placed, in his book, in the context of specific battles of historical consequence from the Ancient and Medieval world, which serves to thoroughly ground the entire work with satisfying substance.

•Warhammer Ancient Battles (and Warmaster Ancients) are, as the names suggest, adaptations of our familiar GW rulesets for historical armies. In many ways, these might seem the ideal AnM rules, because they are reasonably available commercially, professionally presented, and familiar--and in some cases they *are* nearly ideal (though be warned the basis of the system is 6th--versus 7th--edition WHFB). I am biased against WAB somewhat because (in my view) it critically botches the key army of the Ancient World in simulation, the Roman Legions (though Adrian Goldsworthy's alternative rules in the most recent Slingshot look to have corrected many of the particular issues I have)...but if you play Warhammer Fantasy Battles (and any army *other* than Rome), you probably ought to give WAB consideration.

That business addressed, comes the fun part--the toy soldiers.

There are other scales (Warmaster, in fact, is 10mm, like it's fantasy counterpart) with 15mm, 20mm and 25mm the most popular--but hobbyists having at Historicals from a GW orientation are likely to prefer 28mm--or 'heroic'--scale, as the perfect compromise between figures of sufficient size to capture detail and artistry and still be small enough to simulate battle with on a tabletop.

In 28mm, there are more than a few small manufacturers who cast in metals--Crusader, 1st Corps, Gorgon, Gripping Beast, et al--but the undisputed leader is Wargames Foundry, also known as Foundry Miniatures or simply The Foundry ( http://www.wargamesfoundry.com ): they have been at it long time, their lines are extensive (and their sculpts often gorgeous) and they are located, conveniently, right near Nottingham, UK, the toy soldier capital of the world. Their proximity to GW means many of that giant's SF and/or Fantasy figure sculptors will work for Foundry when they wish to indulge an historical whim.

Building an army completely from pewter is no small investment, even with Foundry's army bundles and occasional sales...but even if a hobbyist prefers to begin with a foundation of plastic models from manufacturers such as those listed following, rare is the era that will not see it's forces improved in quality and variety by inclusion of models from metal-casters such as Foundry.

And--as of just recently--modelers *can* do 28mm Ancient and Medievals in plastic. This is an enormous development toward potentially broadening the hobby. Just as GW has staked it's future on the reduced cost, increased flexibility and ease of work which comes with modeling in multipart hard plastic, at least two major companies have staked themselves to the same potential, with Historicals.

Wargames Factory ( http//www.wargamesfactory.com ) is the newest such company, and has generated considerable interest chiefly because of the extremely low retail prices their multipart plastic model sets boast. There have been, in turn, criticisms of the comparative softness of their molding plastics (and how same accepts adhesives) and especially of their sculpts, which appear to vary wildly not only in quality but in dimension (check out the veritable giant helming one of their Celtic chariots for a good example); more than one source has suggested these problems reflect the company's policy of casting directly from computer-modeled images, rather than traditional artists-master sculpts--which is a part of how they are able to offer such prices, to return to the original point. If Wargames Factory can trend further toward the scale model and away from the toy figure as they mature their processes, while keeping their retail prices attractive, their impact could be significant.

Meantime, the field leader, the company that brought the concept of 'mass market plastics' to Historicals wargaming, is Warlord Games ( http://www.warlordgames.co.uk ), also Nottingham-based, also with deep GW ties (White Dwarf's best editor ever, Paul Sawyer, is one of Warlord's founders). They have an extensive line of pewter sculpts of exceptional quality, some fine resin pieces, as well...but have made their name with multipart hard plastic Historical regiment boxes very like what a hobbyist would expect from a 40K, WHFB or LotR box. Like Foundry, they also offer discounted army bundles--in many cases keyed to building armies to specific rulesets--but because they can create the foundations for these armies from their multipart plastics, building an entire army isn't so daunting a fiscal investment: I've an Imperial Roman army from Warlord more than twice the size of my Post-Roman Briton (Arthurian) army from Foundry and Gripping Beast, PLUS a nice battery of Roman war machines...all at less cost.

Will Roman Legions and Germanic Barbarians clashing in the Teutoberg Forest replace Space Marines and Orks (or High Elves and Orcs) on many tabletops? Unlikely--but then, one needn't necessarily 'replace' the other, so much as complement it. Hobbies are for relaxing, for fun; if you think you might find Historicals fun, the sources listed should get you started.